All across the world, there are ambitious entrepreneurs and founders building things they are passionate about. By 2030, it is expected that India will not only have the youngest working age population in the world, but also the largest mass of boys and girls who will be in schools, studying for their future. But, what is the future that awaits them? Is there a concrete representation of how school children in India should go about their study and play? India’s private education sector has many answers.
Coursing through the media, it may seem as if Indian education is all about test preparation (they call it the test prep market, a humongous market by any measure owing to the scale of our Gen Z population) and memory building. As cohorts of children and youngsters find things to do everyday, it is very important for the country’s well-being that its future generations are able to think critically about a range of subjects.
Today, at Bangalore Insider we spoke to Preethi Vickram, founder of Tapas, a 1st-12th project-based learning school building for the future of education in India. Below are the excerpts from our interaction.
These answers are attributed to Preethi Vickram, Founder, Tapas
Give a brief info about your startup?
Tapas is a 1st-12th school, currently in our second cohort. Tapas is a 100% Project-Based Learning School, focusing on STEAM Education. At the core of the school is the curriculum, which is derived from the Cambridge curriculum. Tapas has customized the curriculum to the needs of the Indian students and implemented Project-Based Learning to impart education while being conscious about the Indian Ethos.
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
In my two decades of experience being an educationist- running preschools and working on curriculums – I have always felt a disconnect between the modern methodologies we used in preschools and the conventional methods of teaching in primary and secondary schools. Schools in India have always stuck to the conventional methods of teaching. There were no 100% Project-Based Learning Schools in India. In today’s age, children need more dynamic modes of education, and sticking to the rigid old methods doesn’t do justice to the evolving learning capacities of children. Conventional education has always tended to focus on memory building as opposed to a practical understanding of concepts and skill-building amongst learners. That methodology isn’t enough to prepare children for the future. It’s important that children know ‘how to learn’ and not focus on ‘what to learn’. Simply put, conventional education just isn’t future-proof and does not suffice in this VUCA world. This problem was what inspired me to set up a 100% Project-Based Learning School to ensure holistic education for children from 1 to 12.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
I have been an educationist throughout my professional career. I have always been passionate about education and parenting. Hailing from a family of businessmen and educators, I’m a serial entrepreneur and have successfully run businesses in the space of education, leadership mentoring, and training over the last two decades. I am the founder of LIFE – an ed-tech initiative that focuses on educational leadership and organisational cultures. I am also the Master Franchisee for Podar Jumbo Kids in the regions of Karantaka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with over 50 centres under me. My papers about education have been published in national and international journals and I’ve had the opportunity to present at various forums internationally as well. Having trained teachers, coached parents, and worked in Governmental Committees to shape policy, starting Tapas was a culmination of this as it is a natural extension of ‘walking the talk’ and providing a model of schooling that is sustainable and much needed.
Where is your startup based? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
My startup is based in Bangalore. Bangalore always pushes the envelope when it comes to new initiatives and is the birthplace of innovation. Bangalore has been at the forefront of implementing modern educational methodologies in education. For years, parents in Bangalore have yearned for a school that can carry forward these methodologies into Primary and Secondary school teaching. So, there is a burgeoning demand in Bangalore for this product. Having always been a part of the Bangalore education ecosystem, I also have an emotional connection to the city. It was a no-brainer that my startup would be based in Bangalore.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
A: I’m constantly aware that the kind of education we have set out to implement can only be executed in the hands of highly mindful teachers. Finding the resource people who are aligned to the vision of a child-centric and child-led curriculum is the greatest challenge and this keeps me up at night. Finding such resource people is an ongoing search and most likely one that will go on till the existence of the school. A robust training program and also a stringent selection process help us find the proverbial diamond in the rough.
Who are your competitors and how are you better than them?
A: Tapas is the only school that provides 100% Project-Based Learning in Bangalore. The curriculum is customised by building layers on top of the Cambridge syllabus, thus making it way more holistic than any other school’s out there. There are other schools who follow a different, yet unconventional approach and can be termed as competitors. By creating an environment that is child-led with an emphasis on values, we are able to differentiate ourselves.
How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
It is true that work-life balance can be a daunting ask for founders of a start-up. It is usually about finding the right support systems that can ease the burden. As a woman, this is probably the most critical aspect of founding a start-up. More than the capabilities as an entrepreneur, you are defined by how well you are able to have a balance. Fortunately for me, I’m blessed with a fantastic support system with a great big family that steps in not just to support but more to fuel my passion. They believe in my vision for Tapas and hence offer unconditional support. Because of that, it almost feels like I get 48 hrs in a day!!
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If not then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
We haven’t raised funding yet. We want to build a market-tested product-led company. We rolled out the product last year and have successfully completed our first cohort. We have a product that has been tested in the market and has received positive feedback from customers. The next stage in growth for us is to scale this to more learners across multiple centres. Fueling that growth would need infusion of fresh capital into the business. We will be meeting with investors for that. Raising funding isn’t just a task to check off the list for us though. We want to raise capital strategically and it is important for us to raise investment from like minded investors who believe in our vision.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
I don’t think there are any misconceptions about me. I’m straightforward, respectful, and truthful. I am honest about my strengths and weaknesses, and I always appreciate feedback because it allows me to improve. Because I always try to be transparent, objective and open-minded, people frequently seek (and receive) my advice and confide in me.
What gets you excited about this company?
At Tapas, we are changing the way children learn. This will lay the foundations for the next generation to be able to take on the problems of the future and create newer success stories. When we are practising agility in the way children learn, our company is also practising being more agile in our decision making. This ensures that we are constantly evolving, challenging the status quo. This is exciting and keeps us motivated and challenged.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
A: My morning begins with prayers. The breakfast rush is very real, as we each dash to get to school and office respectively. I like cooking but have great help from my mother-in-law who takes the responsibility of the cooking all on herself. Sharing an office building with my husband ensures that the commute is time for great conversation and catching up between us.
Once at my cabin (which I call my happy place), I begin the day with a to do list, check on the previous days’ spill over tasks and spend a few minutes planning what is high priority to get completed in the day. About 20% of my work day is usually spent in research, understanding trends, reading journals and brushing up on learnings.
I walk whenever I’m on a call, giving my back the much needed break from sitting. Once I’m home in the evening, I spend time with my son catching up on his day. Sometimes we play chess, scrabble and other board games together. My son and I enjoy a good debate and often talk about philosophical topics ranging from Sanata Dharma to LGBTQ communities.
A quick dinner prep is followed by a family meal. It is a rule that we all eat as many meals together as a family as possible and all gadgets are off during these meals.
A bit of entertainment after dinner through catching a part of a movie or a show on one of the OTT platforms. I love to walk in the nights when compared to the day, so a 45 min walk, 10 min wind down before I settle into bed with a book or a conversation with my husband (yes, we talk a lot!!). End the day with a prayer before I drift off.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
As the founding team, it was critical that we are all aligned in our vision for the school. We have known each other for about 2 decades now, having all been part of the early years education industry. The team of founders come together with complementary skill sets to create the perfect team.
Nishanthi Abhijith is a young mother, an entrepreneur and a passionate educator. Having founded Lil Fireflies which provided life skills programs across schools and preschools, her understanding of children and their need for being future ready shaped how the curriculum is designed at Tapas.
Shruthi Rathan is among the pioneers of preschool education in Bangalore having experience of running 3 preschools for close to two decades. As a mother of two teenage boys, a Veena player and an artist, she draws from various life experiences to enhance the pursuit of arts at Tapas. She understands the importance of art in a child’s life, especially during the teenage years.
Arya P Tirtha is a dynamic social entrepreneur. Having the experience of running an old age home and a home of destitute girls, she leads life by example. She brings in the sensibilities of ‘Kayakave Kailasa’ or dignity of labour at Tapas. She ensures that the learners at Tapas are oriented to think about the society at large and not limit their vision to having a future for themselves.
Vaidehi Arun is an enthusiastic educator who has had over 25 years of experience teaching in India, US and UK. Her passion and enthusiasm seems to grow each year. She is truly a lifelong learner by continuing to educate herself. She brings the critical element of parental involvement as every stakeholder at Tapas is valued and respected for their inputs.
Our board of advisors come from varied walks of life, yet are connected by their experience in being leaders in educational transformation. They regularly guide and shape the path at Tapas.